"We are committed to winning passage of the 'Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,' but we will never compromise our support of the Second Amendment to do so."
A piece of legislation has 55 U.S. Senate co-sponsors, including the Republican and Democratic Senate leaders. It has passed the House of Representatives by a better than 2-to-1 margin. It has the backing of President Bush and business and union groups. It has the overwhelming support of the American people.
Question: "How does that legislation wind up being defeated by a vote of 8 to 90?"
The short and ugly answer is: anti-gun politics, as practiced by Second Amendment-hating special interest groups and politicians who will do and say almost anything to see the American firearms industry wrongfully sued into bankruptcy.
S. 1805, the "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act," has had broad bipartisan support because rational individuals realize that attempting to hold the American firearms industry responsible for the acts of violent criminals is not only wrong-headed, but a perversion of two centuries of American law.
A "clean" version of S. 1805 was sure to pass, as President Bush recognized and urged in a statement issued two days prior to debate on the bill:
"The Administration strongly supports Senate passage of S. 1805.
The Administration urges the Senate to pass a clean bill, in order to ensure enactment of the legislation this year. Any amendment that would delay enactment of the bill beyond this year is unacceptable. The manufacturer or seller of a legal, non-defective product should not be held liable for the criminal or unlawful misuse of that product by others. The possibility of imposing liability on an entire industry for harm that is solely caused by others is an abuse of the legal system, erodes public confidence in our Nation's laws, threatens the diminution of a basic constitutional right and civil liberty, sets a poor precedent for other lawful industries, will cause a loss of jobs, and burdens interstate and foreign commerce. S. 1805 would help curb frivolous litigation against a lawful American industry and the thousands of workers it employs and would help prevent abuse of the legal system. At the same time, the legislation would carefully preserve the right of individuals to have their day in court with civil liability actions. These civil actions are enumerated in the bill and respect the traditional role of the States in our Federal system with regard to such actions."
Anti-gun senators realized that they couldn't defeat S. 1805, so they had to load the bill with enough "poison-pill" amendments to make it acceptable to gun-ban groups--such as Americans for Gun Safety and the Brady Campaign. The anti-gun wish list included renewal of the Clinton semi-auto ban, restricting gun shows and bans on ammunition.
As the Senate debate wound over four days, anti-Second Amendment senators piled wild accusation on top of unsupported claims in an effort to pass their amendments. Demagoguery became the rule; truth became the casualty. No lie was too outlandish.
Democratic floor leader Jack Reed, D-R.I., claimed the U.S. firearms industry "is virtually unregulated." Dick Durbin, D-Ill., spouted, "NRA is trying to protect those who use guns illegally," then claimed "cop killers are going to love this bill."
Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., called S. 1805 "a despicable proposal," and ludicrously suggested that "straw purchasers would be immune."
"The dividing line between the true friends and true enemies of the Second Amendment now has been drawn deeply in the sand for all to see."
When the final day of debate and key voting began, no one was sure of the outcome. Vice President Dick Cheney was on hand to help pass S. 1805 by breaking potential 50-50 tie votes. He never got the chance. Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and John Edwards, D-N.C., each broke off Super Tuesday presidential campaigning to fly to Washington and add their anti-gun support. With their help, Sen. Dianne Feinstein's, D-Calif., gun ban renewal passed 52 47. The McCain-Reed gun show amendment, after being somewhat watered down, passed 53-46.
At day's end, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., remarked: "How curious it is that Senator Kerry, who has missed very important votes all session long, now flies into town, proclaims his staunch support for the Second Amendment and minutes later casts a string of anti-gun votes, including one to effectively ban deer hunting ammunition."
Faced with the fact that gun-ban activists in Congress slipped through anti gun amendments, NRA officially withdrew its support for final passage. The "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act," with its crippling amendments, garnered only eight votes.
In a message sent to the Senate, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre and NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox said the decision to oppose final passage "is in no way a reflection on the hard work and dedication of those senators on both sides of the aisle--especially Senator Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and most of his cosponsors--who stood up for the principle of individual responsibility embodied in S. 1805, and who opposed the anti-gun 'poison pill' amendments aimed at destroying it. We sincerely appreciate their hard work and dedication."
After the final 8-to-90 vote, Sen. Feinstein told The New York Times,"My emotions are bizarre. For this to have happened is amazing. This scenario never entered my mind."
It wouldn't have been amazing at all if she had listened to what NRA was saying from day one. The message from NRA-ILA's executive director could not have been clearer. "We are committed to winning passage of the 'Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act,' " Cox said, "but we will never compromise our support of the Second Amendment to do so."
In terming the vote a "temporary setback" for gun owners, Cox noted that there has not been a Senate gun vote in five years. "The dividing line between the true friends and true enemies of the Second Amendment now has been drawn deeply in the sand for all to see," he said. "Votes beat rhetoric every time.
"The senators have voted and will do so again. America's gun owners are now looking forward to Nov. 2, when they get their chance to vote."
A Tale of Two Senators
An interesting sidelight to the S. 1805 debate was the actions of the two senators from Virginia, particularly on the issue of the semi-auto ban, where both changed prior positions.
Campaigning for the Senate four years ago, former Virginia Gov. George Allen stated he favored keeping in place the federal semi-auto ban, saying his goal in "fighting criminals was to enforce, not repeal, existing laws."
After studying the issue, Sen. Allen came to the conclusion that: "The simple fact is the Assault Weapons Ban only attacks the cosmetic features of a gun, banning some guns even though they function exactly the same as hundreds of other semi-automatic firearms."
He noted that, "In Virginia we have seen that incarcerating violent felons is the best crime reduction policy. I still believe our focus should be on criminals, not guns, and it should be on programs that work, like Project Exile and the Abolition of Parole."
Sen. Allen also expressed his concern "that reauthorizing this gun ban legislation will serve as a platform, inviting added restrictions on Second Amendment rights. The current law, then, only makes sense if the ultimate goal it is to ban more and more guns in the future, something I cannot support. This can be seen in several proposals that permanently ban a large number of guns that citizens lawfully use for competition, hunting or self defense."
Virginia's other senator, John Warner, voted against Bill Clinton's gun ban in 1994, but switched his vote during the S. 1805 debate. He told senators he had convinced Sen. Feinstein to scale down her amendment in order to secure 51 votes and praised her leadership on the gun ban issue. Sen. Feinstein is known best to gun owners in Sen. Warner's state and across the nation for her ominous threat that: "If I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them, Mr. and Mrs. America, turn them all in, I would have done it." She appears to have gained a new ally in Sen. Warner.
A Tale of Two Attorneys
During S. 1805 debate, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., entered into the record opinions from two attorneys--Lloyd Cutler and David Boies--criticizing the legislation. She somehow failed to note that both opinions were written at the behest of the Brady Campaign.
Cutler is noteworthy for several reasons, including the fact that his law firm is currently suing the firearms industry! Cutler, once a consultant to the National Council to Control Handguns, a group that sought a total ban on handguns, has made campaign contributions to a "Who's Who" of anti-gun national politicians. The list includes: Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., John Kerry, D-Mass., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Boies' anti-gun resume, although shorter than Culter's, can be summed up in three words--"Al Gore's attorney."